Interview By Teresa Hopkins
The following interview was originally conducted for a special part of the ACCEPT Ambassadors Forum entitled ‘ACCEPT’s Rock Stars’, devoted to stories about the fans to be shared with the fans worldwide. As Teresa is ACCEPT Ambassador for the USA and also part of the Metal Shock Finland team, we wanted to share the article as part of a fundraiser that is taking place at the end of May (details at the end). The chat with Richard demonstrates an insight into the harsh realities of battling cancer, as well as his stories about the legendary band. You can read the full interview below:
That was the slogan on the orange t-shirt he was wearing as he stood next to a PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography) machine in the cover photo of his Facebook page.
This guy had just been added as a new member of our ever-growing Facebook group, Accept Fans Worldwide. He was a Tennessean, and I hadn’t seen too many of those in our group, if any. I told him most of my family is from the Volunteer State, and that some of my great granddaddy’s Mason jars full of money from selling moonshine back in the day were supposedly still under what is now Dale Hollow Dam. He said, “Well I metal detect. Let’s go find ‘em!”
From there, I got to know Richard Morton a/k/a “Chef Daddy Rich”, from Smyrna, Tennessee, where he’s lived for many years. What impressed me right off the bat was his positive outlook on life and great sense of humor. I would soon learn that these played a big part in the strength of Richard’s spirit, and are vital to him being here today—a big man with a big heart to match. I asked him if we could talk about the reason he wore that shirt with such conviction, and he heartily agreed. His lovely wife, Shelly, joined us for the interview.
We talked about a lot of interesting things in the course of nearly an hour. I found out that Richard made a brief appearance as one of the prison guards in Accept’s “Death Row” video, shot in Nashville at the former Tennessee State Penitentiary (also where the movie “ The Green Mile” was filmed). But that wasn’t how he’d come to know the band.
According to Richard: “I was at a furniture store, and we were playing Accept’s music. A lady by the name of Catherine came in, heard what we were playing, and said, “I know those people!” And I said, “No way!” Well, that’s when Gaby and Wolf had first moved down here. They were looking for furniture for an office. Catherine introduced me to Gaby, and Gaby and I just hit it off. I would go out to their farm when they first moved here. They had a 3-car garage and I helped Wolf transform it into a studio. Eventually Michael Wagener [the producer]—who I’m sure you’re familiar with—moved here from L.A. to Nashville, bought their old house, and wanted somebody to paint it. So I just went over and painted it.”
Richard had been a fan of Accept since the very early days, long before he’d actually met them. Considering that most entertainers who are wild and crazy on stage can be quite the opposite when they are “off-duty”, so to speak, I asked Richard if they were at all like he thought they would be:
Richard: “I thought they’d be a little more in your face, if you know what I mean, just because of the style of music that they do. I’ve been to shows and they are just 100% in your face on stage. But you know, it was a real 180. When they’re not on stage they come off very soft-spoken, maybe a little reserved. They are the sweetest, most kind people you’d ever want to meet.”
Do you have any favorite tunes are from Accept’s catalogue of music?
Richard: “’Russian Roulette’ and of course, everybody’s favorite, “Balls to the Wall”! The new stuff with Mark I find is awesome. He fits in so well with the band, and among the new stuff they’ve written I like “Hung, Drawn & Quartered” and “Teutonic Terror”. It’s hard to pick any one song, because if you’re a fan you’re a fan of all of it.”
I understand you’re a chef at Valentino’s in Nashville. Where is it located and what kind of cuisine is featured?
Richard: “Yes. I’ve been there since 1991. Valentino’s is at the corner of 19th and West End Avenue. We’re an upscale Italian restaurant. We’ve had a lot of [big names] coming in. I’ve cooked for Bill Gates, Lily Tomlin… the band Shine Down stops in when they’re in town… lots of country artists like John Rich, Rascal Flatts, Toby Keith. The list goes on.”
How is the atmosphere at Valentino’s?
Richard: “Well, it’s upscale but relaxed. Some people might find it uptight, but it’s really not. We’re like family there.”
And what are some other things you enjoy doing? I hear you like to use a metal detector…
Richard: “Yes. I metal detect for Civil War relics. I don’t do it for money purposes. Everything I find, I keep and display in my house. It’s just my peace of mind from the restaurant business. I like the quiet. No TV, no phone, just me and nature. It’s great for me to just unwind.”
I understand you spent some time in the service.
Richard: Yes. 4 years in the Army, stationed for 2 up at Ft. Lewis, WA with the 9th Infantry Division. With 2nd of First Infantry. Then 2 years in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division there, with 3rd Squadron 4th Air Cavalry. It meant the world to me to do it.
Tell us a little about your family.
“My wife is Shelly. We met in 1989…[Shelly is heard in the background] Oh… she said it was 1987… Yeah! (laughs) We dated 2 years and got married in 1989.
Our first son was born in 1991. He came 6 weeks early and spent 2 weeks in NICU. So, the cancer’s not been the only issue in my life! It was so hard coming home from the hospital and having to leave him there. First baby and we can’t take him home. He’s 23 now and is a US Marine in the Reserves. Works at Nissan in Smyrna. He recently bought a house. 23 and a homeowner! We are so proud.
Our 2nd child is Brandon. He is a real blessing! He was born the day towers went down [September 11, 2001]. Shelly called and said her water broke. I was on my way to the hospital when I heard the news on the radio—that the first plane had hit the tower. And then I met her at the hospital, and of course I was watching the news on the TV and she’s like, ‘Hey, remember me? I’m having your baby over here!'”
I remember that day well. No doubt everyone does. We were expecting our first baby at the time too. You don’t know what it means but it feels like it could be the end of the world. And then you think, ‘What kind of a world am I bringing my child into’, you know?
Richard: “Right! The Tennessean [local newspaper] interviewed Shelly and asked her how she felt—this was her day, but all this was going on in the world. So they did a little article in the paper about that. And now…Gosh… We will be celebrating 25 years of marriage this June.”
Well congratulations! That’s wonderful!
Richard: “Thank you!”
All right. I’m going to get into the sensitive stuff here with the questions. If there’s anything that you don’t feel comfortable in answering, you don’t have to. This is just to bring attention to what you’re doing and to celebrate you.
Richard: “Oh, don’t worry about that! My life’s an open book—what you see is what you get.”
How was your life going along before the trouble started? What kinds of things were you doing?
Richard: “Everything was going really good. I didn’t feel any different. The only thing that I guess should have been an issue and I ignored was that I had a swollen lymph node where my leg sits on my torso. And it didn’t hurt or bother me, so I thought, “Why should I check it out?” which in hindsight, I would tell everybody to go get it checked out. Even if it’s not bothering you, there’s a reason why this is happening.”
Shelly: “And I kept telling him honey, get it checked out! And he kept saying ‘No, it’s fine.‘”
Well, that’s a guy for you. Typical. They don’t seem very keen on going to the doctor.
Shelly: “That’s right!”
Richard: I went for my yearly physical. After the regular exam, I told him to take a look at this. He said we needed to do an ultrasound on it. So we did that. He said, “It’s swollen.” Well of course it was swollen! I knew it was. I didn’t need to spend the money for an ultrasound for somebody to tell me what I already knew. They scheduled me for a biopsy. This was the first time I’ve ever been in the hospital for myself. I’ve never had any broken bones… well, maybe getting stitches, but never issues or surgeries before.
They removed the lymph node, but the test results came back positive. So I had an appointment scheduled with the oncologist. Shelly asked if I wanted her to come with me and I said, “No, he’s not going to tell me anything today. He said the results wouldn’t be back.” I went by myself. I sat down in the room and the oncologist said, “Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. Which do you want first?” [Isn't that what they always say?] I said, “I want the bad news first, because it’s only gonna get better from there.” He said, “The bad news is you have Stage 3 Follicular Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”
Wow. And what was the good news?
Richard: He said, “The good news is that it’s treatable. It’s not curable, but it’s treatable.” So that was that. Then he asked when I wanted to start treatment. I said, “As soon as possible!” When I left the room, it was like somebody had hit me with a ton of bricks. There’s a long hallway to the elevator there at the hospital and so as I was walking, I just thought about it… [Richard pauses and breaks down]
Shelly: “He gets emotional about it…”
Shelly: “I sure wasn’t expecting to hear that either. He called me and said, “It’s cancer.” I was at work when I took his call and I said, “Whaaat!?” So we were both kinda sitting there in shock, crying like babies. I was trying to contain myself for his sake. [After a bit] we said, “OK. What do we do from here?””
Richard: “We got a port put in my chest, and my first chemo treatment was August 15, 2011. I went through 6 full-blown chemotherapy treatments.”
Shelly: “And he lost his hair. He looked so sick and was so weak. He went through a lot of ups and downs during that time.”
Did you have to go through radiation treatments too? Or did the chemo wipe it out?
Richard: “Just the chemo. After the third one, I went for my scan and the results came back negative. I was in remission. He wanted to do the other three treatments just to make sure it was knocked out.”
Were there a lot of horrible side effects? Were you able—or did you want to—continue working?
Richard: “Now working… sometimes it would really wipe me out and I could only work 5 hours a week. I just had no energy. I would go for my chemo treatment on a Friday, and I would feel fine. The next day I’d feel a little tired. The second day after I’d really feel like shit. It takes about 2 days for it to really get in your system. The one drug they were giving me was nicknamed The Red Devil. This is why they tell you to get the port, because if it misses your bloodstream and gets in your other tissues, it will eat your skin and tissue. So they would inject that manually into the IV to the port that was feeding the chemo into my body. The first couple of times that I went to pee, I would pee red. They warn you about that right off so you don’t freak out. Good thing, too, because if I hadn’t known, I would have!
Another side effect I experienced was just a horrible metallic taste in my mouth. That would last for about 2 weeks and then I’d start to feel better. My treatments were 3 weeks apart. So I’d feel good for a week, go in for my treatments and feel crappy for 2 weeks.
But you know, through the whole experience, I stayed positive. I would show up to do my chemo treatment on time, but acting as if I was late, and I’d say, ‘I’m so sorry… I’m having a bad hair day.‘
I didn’t have a hair on my head of course, but it made everybody laugh. And that’s what it’s all about. 90% of it is attitude. If you’ve got a negative attitude, then it’s gonna get ya. You gotta stay upbeat. The next time I went in there I wore a hat with a mullet on it.”
Shelly: “He embarrassed me half the time! “(laughs)
Richard: That got them cracking up in there. I’d always bring donuts or treats for everybody while we were waiting. It was a big party when I went in. I’d tell ‘em, “We’re not gonna be bummed out. We’re not gonna be ‘Poor Pitiful Me’.”
So when you’d completed these six treatments, what came next?
Richard: “After that it was preventive maintenance: every three months for 2 years. My last maintenance treatment was December 2, 2013. [The doctor said that] studies showed this treatment plan has been successful at keeping the cancer at bay.”
And the Lymphoma is out of your system now? It won’t come back?
Richard: “It will come back—it’s just a question of when. Now whether it’s 5 years, 10 years… we don’t know. It might not even come back in my lifetime. The treatment that I went through should hold it at bay for 10 to 15 years, maybe longer. But if it does come back, I’ll go through the same treatment again, the same way.”
I see. So you’ve completed the preventive maintenance and they’ve given you the “all-clear” for now. I’m assuming they’ll want you to have checkups periodically. Will that include any follow-up chemotherapy, or are you finished with that as far as you know?
Richard: “Right now the plan is every 6 months for two or three years, and then after that, once a year.”
You sound like you’re doing fantastic. If you don’t mind the dark tone here, I want to ask, for those that don’t know and may be wondering. What is survival rate for this kind of cancer? Is it usually favorable?
Richard: “It is for the type of lymphoma I have. I’m not sure of the statistics.”
Shelly: “At some point in time, they said that if or when it did come back, they would try the chemo again, but if that didn’t work he would have to have a stem cell transplant.”
Richard: “They used to call it a... [Richard thinks for a moment]… bone marrow transplant.”
Shelly: “Now they call it a stem cell transplant.”
I didn’t realize they were one and the same.
Richard: “They would have to take stem cells out of me, grow them, and then put the healthy ones back in. If that didn’t work, I would need a donor. I’m in the registry to find a matching donor.”
Shelly: “There are ten components that have to match.”
So obviously it’s a lot more than blood type.
Shelly: “Right. It is. A sibling is your best possibility of a match.”
What would you say has given you the most strength to get through this? Obviously the positive attitude has been a huge part of it.
Richard: “Family and friends have been incredibly supportive. My family has been there every step of the way. My wife and boys have been by my side. Our friends had a community yard sale and raised $2000. They used half of that to pay our electric bill for 8 months and paid up our car insurance for a year. They gave us $500 for whatever we needed and the remaining $500 was put on a gift card for groceries and things.
So on October 6th, a good friend of ours said she wanted us to come out to their place. It was actually my birthday. I’d just completed a treatment and I told Shelly I didn’t feel good, but she insisted we go. They were having a bonfire and everything. Shelly promised we wouldn’t stay long, you know…”
[Richard breaks down again]
Shelly: “I’d planned a surprise birthday party for him. He kept saying he didn’t want a party, he didn’t feel like it, but I thought, you know what? He needs it more than he thinks. Of course they’d planned to give him the surprise gift too, but he didn’t know that. Yet.”
Richard: “She had gotten all my high school friends and all the people I worked with together—just about everybody that knew us. Our friend has a big place, so they had everyone hide their cars in another building on the property. I drove up, of course having no idea. I walked around the corner and there were just a few of them around the bonfire. All of a sudden the doors flew open and there was everybody, yelling “Surprise!” And it was!”
And great cause to celebrate, too! Another birthday, Richard. What can you say? You’ve got many more ahead of you now because you’ve fought this and you’re winning. Everybody’s proud of you and they want to celebrate your life.
Richard: One of the things they had given me was a ball cap with a mullet attached to it. That’s the one I mentioned earlier, that I wore to the doctor. Shelly asked–here’s my weird sense of humor again—what we were gonna be for Halloween. And I said, “Well, I’ll be a cancer patient and you can be a nurse.” She didn’t think that was too funny… but I thought it was (laughs). And then I said, “Well, OK then, I’ll be Uncle Fester and you can be Morticia [Addams]”.
(I was cracking up over that one.) Well, that’s pretty good—working with what you’ve got!
Richard: “Yeah, I thought I looked like a great cancer patient.”
So looking back on this whole experience, is there anything you would have done differently?
Richard: “The only thing I can honestly say is that I should have gone to the doctor right away when I first noticed the swelling. I wish I’d taken it more seriously. In hindsight my only regret is not having a doctor look at that earlier. As far as finding out that I had cancer to the point of him telling me it was into remission, to finishing the chemotherapy and stuff, I can honestly say I only had one bad experience. That was after my fifth treatment. It was right at Christmas time and before the last scheduled treatment. I finally broke down and cried. I’d had enough, you know? But then I thought, I’ve got one more treatment and I’m done with this shit. So let’s get it on. I cried for a day and I was done with it. On we went, and here we are.”
Being a survivor is probably the greatest thing you have taken from all of it. Are there any other positives that you feel have come out of your experience?
Richard: “I think so. It gives you a whole new outlook on life. It makes you realize that life is short and you’re not guaranteed tomorrow. So you as a person, as a human being, need to be the best person you can be while you’re here and try to make a difference in people’s lives.
My oncologist had called, asking me if I’d talk to a couple of his new patients. He had recommended chemotherapy and they were just gonna let it ride. He said, “You don’t have to do this. But with your positive attitude and your outlook and just the way you’ve come through it like a champion, maybe you could talk to these people and get them to change their minds.” So I spoke with both patients over the telephone and eventually both of them did go on to get the treatment. That made me feel good.
Now I’m involved in Relay For Life. It makes my heart proud of all the donations. I’m also involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We held a celebrity car wash on May 18 and 100% of the proceeds went to help that organization. I have another friend who actually has gone through a rare type of stomach cancer and just beat it. His name is Randy Napier. He has come through with flying colours after his treatments. He’s got me involved with another organization up there in Louisville where he is, called Shirley’s Way. It’s in memory of a lady named Shirley who passed away with cancer. They’re part of CancerIsStupid.org. That’s who makes the orange “CANCER SUCKS” t-shirts. They raise money and give it to families who are going through it to pay their electric bill or utilities, fix the family car so they’ll have transportation to the doctor, things like that. It’s a great cause. It’s opened me up to other organizations that I really want to get out there and help. It means the world to me, because I know going through it—you’ve got to have a support group, because Lord knows it’s not good.”
Thank you both so much for talking with me today. I really appreciate that you’ve been willing to speak about it so candidly. I hope that by sharing your experience, it will be of help to others who may be dealing with cancer.
Before we close, I want to get the specifics from you about these organizations in case our readers would like to know more about them.
Richard: “Thank you! I’d love that. There are so many Accept fans. If they got their Metal Hearts behind it, this could take off like wildfire. We could really make it go. It would be awesome!”
Is there anything you want to add that you’d like everyone to know?
Richard: “You’ve gotta stay positive. If you don’t, it’s gonna kick you right in the ass.”
Never give up—I didn’t!
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to talk with Richard and Shelly and get to know them a little better. Both of them devote a great deal of their lives to helping others and they seem to have a real appreciation and zest for their life together. The strength and generosity of their spirits is a real inspiration to me, and it is my sincere hope that this interview has helped or inspired you in some way, too.
Please check out the information below for more on the organizations we talked about
and consider making a donation if you can.
The Relay For Life of Rutherford County event for the American Cancer Society is on May 30th and 31st from 6:00AM until 6:00PM at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro, TN.
Richard’s Team, Bridgestone LaVergne, for Relay for Life:
You may also visit http://www.relayforlife.org/
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: http://www.lls.org/
Everybody’s got a story. What’s yours? I want to hear from you and how ACCEPT’s music has a place in your life. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.